CASTES IN INDIA

Their Mechanism, Genesis and Development ________________________________________________________________ Anthropology Seminar of Dr. A. A. Goldenweizer at The Columbia University, New York, U.S.A. on 9th May 1916 Source: Indian Antiquary, May 1917, Vol. XLI _______________________________________________________________ Many of us, I dare say, have witnessed local, national or international expositions of material objects that make up the sum total of human civilization. But few can entertain the idea of there being such a thing as an exposition of human institutions. Exhibition of human institutions is a strange idea; some might call it the wildest of ideas. But as students of Ethnology I hope you will not be hard on this innovation, for it is not so, and to you at least it should not be strange. You all have visited, I believe, some historic place like the ruins of Pompeii, and listened with curiosity to the history of the remains as it flowed from the glib tongue of the guide. In my opinion a student of Ethnology, in one sense at least, is much like the guide. Like his prototype, he holds up (perhaps with more seriousness and desire of self-instruction) the social institutions to view, with all the objectiveness humanly possible, and inquires into their origin and function. Most of our fellow students in this Seminar, which concerns itself with primitive versus modern society, have ably acquitted themselves along these lines by giving lucid expositions of the various institutions, modern or primitive, in which they are interested. It is my turn now, this evening, to entertain you, as best I can, with a paper on " Castes in India: Their mechanism, genesis and development " I need hardly remind you of the complexity of the subject I intend to handle. Subtler minds and abler pens than mine have been brought to the task of unravelling the mysteries of Caste; but unfortunately it still, remains in the domain of the " unexplained ", not to say of the " un-understood " I am quite alive to the complex intricacies of a hoary institution like Caste, but I am net so pessimistic as to relegate it to the region of the unknowable, for I believe it can be known. The caste problem is a vast one, both theoretically and practically. Practically, it is an institution that portends tremendous consequences. It is a local problem, but one capable of much wider mischief, for " as long as caste in India does exist, Hindus will hardly intermarry or have any social intercourse with outsiders ; and if Hindus migrate to other regions on earth, Indian caste would become a world problem." [f.1] Theoretically, it has defied a great many scholars who have taken upon themselves, as a labour of love, to dig into its origin. Such being the case, I cannot treat the problem in its entirety. Time, space and acumen,

centuries ago. Ethnically all people are heterogeneous. the extent of which varies. when they were in a tribal state. and after a stomachful of it settled down as peaceful neighbours. Mongolians and Scythians. in theory at any rate rigorously hereditary : equipped with a certain traditional and independent organisation. Through constant contact and mutual intercourse they evolved a common culture that superseded their distinctive cultures. Taking this for granted. defines a caste as " a close corporation. (2) Mr. But Caste is a parcelling of an already homogeneous unit. if I attempted to do otherwise than limit myself to a phase of it. Senart. " a caste may be defined as a collection of families or . Dravidians. the matter would be simple enough. All these stocks of people came into India from various directions and with various cultures. but which succeeds in making the authority of the community more felt by the sanction of detrain penalties and. which relate more particularly to marriage and to food and to questions of ceremonial pollution. If the Hindu Society were a mere federation of mutually exclusive units. including a chief and a council. To proceed with the subject. It is the unity of culture that is the basis of homogeneity. a French authority. But amalgamation can never be the sole criterion of homogeneity as predicated of any people. According to well-known ethnologists. Before launching into our field of enquiry. I venture to say that there is no country that can rival the Indian Peninsula with respect to the unity of its culture. It may be granted that there has not been a thorough amalgamation of the various stocks that make up the peoples of India. meeting on occasion in assemblies of more or less plenary authority and joining together at certain festivals : bound together by common occupations. They all in turn elbowed their entry into the country by fighting with their predecessors. Nesfield defines a caste as "a class of the community which disowns any connection with any other class and can neither intermarry nor eat nor drink with any but persons of their own community ". Risley. But it is because of this homogeneity that Caste becomes a problem so difficult to be explained. and ruling its members by the exercise of jurisdiction. I will strictly observe this rule. namely. the population of India is a mixture of Aryans. above all. the genesis. mechanism and spread of the caste system. and the explanation of the genesis of Caste is the explanation of this process of parcelling. but it has over and above all a deeper and a much more fundamental unity—the indubitable cultural unity that covers the land from end to end. and to a traveller from within the boundaries of India the East presents a marked contrast in physique and even in colour to the West. it is better to advise ourselves regarding the nature of a caste. would all fail me. I will therefore draw upon a few of the best students of caste for their definitions of it : (1) Mr. by final irrevocable exclusion from the group ". as does the South to the North. It has not only a geographic unity. and will dwell on extraneous matters only when it is necessary to clarify or support a point in my thesis. (3) According to Sir H.I am afraid.

Yet collectively all of them are complementary to one another. (ii) the members are forbidden by an inexorable social law to marry outside the group ". Risley. We now pass on to the definition of Dr. but it may be regarded as a later growth. acquired the prohibitory character of a religious injunction. Ketkar who has done much for the elucidation of the subject. The " idea of pollution " has been attached to the institution of Caste. claiming common descent from a mythical ancestor. but he has also brought a critical acumen and an open mind to bear on his study of Caste. but is a natural result of Caste. His definition merits consideration. the system of caste as a whole. professing to follow the same professional callings and are regarded by those who are competent to give an opinion as forming a single homogeneous community ". human or divine. each one emphasising what has been obscured in the other. including messing etc. Their mistake lies in trying to define caste as an isolated unit by itself. To start with Mr. It will be noticed that taken individually the definitions of three of the writers include too much or too little : none is complete or correct by itself and all have missed the central point in the mechanism of the Caste system. Not only is he a native. With regard to this point it may be safely said that it is by no means a peculiarity of Caste as such. only because the Caste that enjoys the highest rank is the priestly Caste : while we know that priest and purity are old associates. for he has . Sir H. exclusiveness. He draws attention to the " idea of pollution " as a characteristic of Caste. No doubt this absence of messing originally due to exclusiveness. It usually originates in priestly ceremonialism and is a particular case of the general belief in purity. makes no new point deserving of special attention. i. In spite of the newness of the point we must say that Mr. By way of criticism. Mr. and with definite relations to. being a self-enclosed unit naturally limits social intercourse. To review these definitions is of great importance for our purpose. Ketkar defines caste as " a social group having two characteristics : (i) membership is confined to those who are born of members and includes all persons so born. Nesfield has mistaken the effect for the cause. I will take only those points common to all Castes in each of the above definitions which are regarded as peculiarities of Caste and evaluate them as such.groups of families bearing a common name which usually denotes or is associated with specific occupation. and not as a group within. to members within it. Nesfield in his way dwells on the absence of messing with those outside the Caste as one of its characteristics. Consequently its necessary connection with Caste may be completely denied without damaging the working of Caste. therefore. We may therefore conclude that the "idea of pollution" is a characteristic of Caste only in so far as Caste has a religious flavour.e. Consequently this absence of messing with outsiders is not due to positive prohibition. (4) Dr. Caste. Senart.

The prevalence of exogamy in the primitive worlds is a fact too well-known to need any explanation. The Negroes and the Whites and the various tribal groups that go by name of American Indians in the United States may be cited as more or less appropriate illustrations in support of this view. This critical evaluation of the various characteristics of Caste leave no doubt that prohibition. Thus the conclusion is inevitable that Endogamy is the only characteristic that is peculiar to caste. I submit that these are but two aspects of one and the same thing. Its religion is essentially primitive and its tribal code. It may not be quite easy for you to anticipate why I regard endogamy as a key to the mystery of the Caste system. and not two different things as Dr. there is usually no social bar . for there exist endogamous groups without giving rise to the problem of Caste. the peoples of India form a homogeneous whole. in spite of the advance of time and civilization. and has concentrated his attention only on those characteristics which are absolutely necessary for the existence of a Caste within a system. The various races of India occupying definite territories have more or less fused into one another and do possess cultural unity. which is the only criterion of a homogeneous population. however. As pointed out before. It may not also be out of place to emphasize at this moment that no civilized society of today presents more survivals of primitive times than does the Indian society. If you prohibit intermarriage the result is that you limit membership. however. to be concise—is the only one that can be called the essence of Caste when rightly understood. Caste in India means an artificial chopping off of the population into fixed and definite units. to which I wish particularly to draw your attention is the Custom of Exogamy. as endogamous societies. But some may deny this on abstract anthropological grounds. I will proceed to give you my reasons for it. Caste becomes a problem altogether new in character and wholly absent in the situation constituted by the mere propinquity of endogamous social or tribal groups. to those born within the group. In a general way this may be true. rightly excluding all others as being secondary or derivative in character. and having little to do with each other are a physical reality. be said that in it there is a slight confusion of thought. Thus the two are the obverse and the reverse sides of the same medal. culturally different. With the growth of history. Ketkar supposes them to be. we shall practically have proved the genesis and also the mechanism of Caste. for in India the situation is different. With respect to his definition it must. lucid and clear as otherwise it is. and excepting the nearest blood-kins. But we must not confuse matters. Given this homogeneity as a basis. or rather the absence of intermarriage—endogamy. operates in all its pristine vigour even today. making their abode in localities more or less removed. and if we succeed in showing how endogamy is maintained.defined Caste in its relation to a system of Castes. One of these primitive survivals. Not to strain your imagination too much. each one prevented from fusing into another through the custom of endogamy. exogamy has lost its efficacy. He speaks of Prohibition of Intermarriage and Membership by Autogeny as the two characteristics of Caste.

Let us take an imaginary group that desires to make itself into a Caste and analyse what means it will have to adopt to make itself endogamous. and generally speaking there is an equality between those of the same age. for without it endogamy can no longer subsist. The equality is. for exogamy means fusion. it is absolutely necessary to maintain . Thus the superposition of endogamy on exogamy means the creation of caste. especially if prior to the introduction of endogamy. never quite realized in actual societies. In other words. so far as India is concerned. otherwise members of the group will be driven out of the circle to take care of themselves in any way they can. and thus consolidate into a homogeneous society. but a marriage even between Sagotras (of the same class) is regarded as a sacrilege. it is absolutely necessary to circumscribe a circle outside which people should not contract marriages. and this can be easily seen from the law of matrimony which centres round the principle of exogamy. But this is not an easy affair. for it is not that Sapindas (blood-kins) cannot marry. exogamy had been the rule in all matrimonial relations. But we have castes . there is a tendency in all groups lying in close contact with one another to assimilate and amalgamate. Indian society still savours of the clan system. Again. Nevertheless. You will. However. readily see that with exogamy as the rule there could be no Caste. Nothing is therefore more important for you to remember than the fact that endogamy is foreign to the people of India. But in order that the conjugal rights be provided for from within. means the superposition of endogamy on exogamy. Roughly speaking. exogamy is strictly observed and that there are more rigorous penalties for violating exogamy than there are for violating endogamy. in a normal group the two sexes are more or less evenly distributed. If a group desires to make itself endogamous a formal injunction against intermarriage with outside groups will be of no avail. It is no exaggeration to say that with the people of India exogamy is a creed and none dare infringe it. in spite of the endogamy of the Castes within them. consequently in the final analysis creation of Castes. even though there are no clans. If this tendency is to be strongly counteracted in the interest of Caste formation. therefore. in an originally exogamous population an easy working out of endogamy (which is equivalent to the creation of Caste) is a grave problem. At the same time to the group that is desirous of making itself into a caste the maintenance of equality between the sexes becomes the ultimate goal. however. The various Gotras of India are and have been exogamous : so are the other groups with totemic organization. and it is in the consideration of the means utilized for the preservation of endogamy against exogamy that we may hope to find the solution of our problem.restricting the field of marriage. if endogamy is to be preserved conjugal rights from within have to be provided for. so much so that. this encircling to prevent marriages from without creates problems from within which are not very easy of solution. But regarding the peoples of India the law of exogamy is a positive injunction even today.

Consequently every surplus woman cannot thus be disposed of. The husband may die before the wife and create a surplus woman. She is therefore a menace in any case. however. because it is an easy solution but a hard realization. else through intermarriage she will violate the endogamy of the group. and a very large disparity is sure to break it. if not disposed of. The problem of Caste. Let us see what our imaginary group is likely to do with this surplus man and surplus woman. has to dispose of. but it fails to guard the morals of the group. and just because she is deprived of her natural right of being a legitimate wife in future. in others it may not. then. But compulsory widowhood is superior to burning because it is more practicable. Thus both the surplus man and the surplus woman constitute a menace to the Caste if not taken care of. We will first take up the case of the surplus woman. ultimately resolves itself into one of repairing the disparity between the marriageable units of the two sexes within it. Being dead and gone she creates no problem of remarriage either inside or outside the Caste. But this is a rare contingency. The second remedy is to enforce widowhood on her for the rest of her life. is rather an impracticable way of solving the problem of sex disparity. Besides being comparatively humane it also guards against the evils of remarriage as does burning. So far as the objective results are concerned. his wife and be surplus man. And so the surplus woman (= widow). whom the group. who must be disposed of.a numerical equality between the marriageable units of the two sexes within the group desirous of making itself into a Caste. In some cases it may work. marry outside and import offspring that is foreign to the Caste. while it may sympathise with him for the sad bereavement. and something must be done to her if she cannot be burned along with her deceased husband. remains in the group : but in her very existence lies a double danger. for not finding suitable partners inside their prescribed circle (and left to themselves they cannot find any. This. She may marry outside the Caste and violate endogamy. In like manner the husband may survive. Burning the widow eliminates all the three evils that a surplus woman is fraught with. burning is a better solution than enforcing widowhood. It is only through the maintenance of such an equality that the necessary endogamy of the group can be kept intact. First : burn her on the funeral pyre of her deceased husband and get rid of her. She can be disposed of in two different ways so as to preserve the endogamy of the Caste. No doubt under compulsory widowhood the woman remains. the incentive to immoral conduct is increased. Left to nature. or she may marry within the Caste and through competition encroach upon the chances of marriage that must be reserved for the potential brides in the Caste. for if the matter be not regulated there can only be just enough pairs to go round) very likely they will transgress the boundary. But this is by no means an insuperable difficulty. She can be degraded to a . the much needed parity between the units can be realized only when a couple dies simultaneously. else he will marry outside the Caste and will break the endogamy.

He is a dominant figure in every group and of the two sexes has greater prestige. if the surplus man remains in the group as an active participator in group activities. Under these circumstances the surplus man can be provided with a wife only by recruiting a bride from the ranks of those not yet marriageable in order to tie him down to the group. Imposing celibacy on the surplus man in the group. for without any compulsion some are so disposed as to enjoy self-imposed celibacy. But man as a maker of injunctions is most often above them all. This solution is not altogether difficult. for the ruling ratio in a caste has to be one man to one woman and none can have two chances of marriage. Secondly. in order that it may be large enough to afford a vigorous communal life. for in a Caste thoroughly self-enclosed there are always just enough marriageable women to go round for the marriageable men. If he observes genuine celibacy and renounces the world. and the solution must assure both these ends. if done. a sturdy soul is lost to the Caste. simply because he is a man. he would not be a menace to the preservation of Caste endogamy or Caste morals as he undoubtedly would be if he remained a secular person. endogamy is still more important. This is certainly the best of the . I say conveniently. At the outset this is not possible. you cannot accord the same kind of treatment to a surplus man as you can to a surplus woman in a Caste. But the problem is to provide him with a wife from within the Caste. With this traditional superiority of man over woman his wishes have always been consulted. is not so advantageous even then to the material prospects of the Caste. so far as the material wellbeing of his Caste is concerned. after the manner of the widow. he is a danger to the morals of the group. From time immemorial man as compared with woman has had the upper hand. The project of burning him with his deceased wife is hazardous in two ways : first of all it cannot be done. to use a Sanskrit technical term. as is very likely to be the case. But to hope for this and to proclaim celibacy is the same as trying to cure atrophy by bleeding. given human nature as it is. A Caste.condition in which she is no longer a source of allurement. has been an easy prey to all kinds of iniquitous injunctions. on the other hand. Looked at from a different point of view celibacy. It is in the interest of the Caste to keep him as a Grahastha (one who raises a family). There remain then only two solutions which can conveniently dispose of him. Important as he is to the group. On the other hand. to remain a widower for the rest of his life. therefore. The problem of surplus man (= widower) is much more important and much more difficult than that of the surplus woman in a group that desires to make itself into a Caste. fails both theoretically and practically. or even to take a further step of their own accord and renounce the world and its joys. Under these circumstances he may be forced or I should say induced. Woman. religious. because he is an asset to the group. But. must be maintained at a certain numerical strength. But as an ascetic celibate he is as good as burned. social or economic. this solution can hardly be expected to be realized. Such being the case. though easy in cases where it succeeds.

VI. but this may in some cases be due purely to psychic disposition. " Devotion to her Lord is woman's honour. This. it is her eternal heaven : and 0 Maheshvara ". when liberated or set in motion create an end. Sati: A Defence of the Eastern Woman in the British Sociological Review. Though.possible solutions in the case of the surplus man. all of them operate as means. Coomaraswamy. because it embodied the ideal of wifehood. So far as I know. Thus the existence of these means is identical with caste and caste involves these means. in my opinion. A. are so constituted that to them writing history is a folly. even to a superficial observer. But institutions do live. (iii) Girl marriage. I need hardly premise that there are a great many pitfalls in the path of those who try to unfold the past. he is kept within the Caste. By this means numerical depletion through constant outflow is guarded against. no scientific explanation of the origin of these customs is forthcoming even today. one also notes a great hankering after Sannyasa (renunciation) on the part of the widower. If this is true. but nothing to tell us the causes of their origin and existence. It will now be seen that the four means by which numerical disparity between the two sexes is conveniently maintained are : (1) burning the widow with her deceased husband . We have plenty of philosophy to tell us why these customs were honoured. as I said above. K. namely : (i) Sati or the burning of the widow on the funeral pyre of her deceased husband. is the general mechanism of a caste in a system of castes. while caste and endogamy. are one and the same thing. Complex though it be in its general working the Hindu Society. like the Hindus. " I desire not paradise itself if thou are not satisfied with me ! " Why compulsory widowhood is honoured I know not. according to our analysis of the various definitions of caste. burning the widow and imposing celibacy on the widower are of doubtful service to the group in its endeavour to preserve its endogamy. and by this endogamy morals are preserved. (3) imposing celibacy on the widower and (4) wedding him to a girl not yet marriageable. But means. In addition. What then is the end that these means create? They create and perpetuate endogamy. This is especially true where there exist no authentic or written records or where the people. (2) compulsory widowhood—a milder form of burning . By this. presents three singular uxorial customs. and caste in India to be sure is a very ancient institution. as forces. she adds with a most touching human cry. for the world is an illusion. (ii) Enforced widowhood by which a widow is not allowed to remarry. our task will be amply rewarded if we scrutinize the solution the Hindus arrived at to meet the problems of the surplus man and surplus woman. which is well expressed by Uma when she said. . Vol. Let us now turn from these high generalities to the castes in Hindu Society and inquire into their mechanism. Sati has been honoured (Cf. 1913) because it is a" proof of the perfect unity of body and soul " between husband and wife and of " devotion beyond the grave ". though for a long time they may remain unrecorded and as often as not customs and morals are like fossils that tell their own history.

The question or origin is always an annoying question and in the study of Caste it is sadly neglected. except that it disguises its real character. Sati. for they must have been so abominable and shocking to the moral sense of the unsophisticated that they needed a great deal of sweetening. but even before marriage. Calling a means an end does no harm. for that is the only correct ideal of chastity.nor have I yet met with any one who sang in praise of it. These customs are essentially of the nature of means. some have connived at it. consequently I am justified in holding that. while caste without endogamy is a fake. and the philosophies grow around it long afterwards to justify it and give it a moral support. So it is better for a girl to know whom she has to love before any sexual consciousness has been awakened in her" [f. enforced widowhood and girl marriage are customs that were primarily intended to solve the problem of the surplus man and surplus woman in a caste and to maintain its endogamy. or to gild the pill. though they are represented as ideals. whether regarded as ends or as means. But this should not blind us from understanding the results that flow from them. but does not tell us why they were practiced. ' origins of . it is a sin.2] . Hence girl marriage. it is the movement that is most important. though there are a great many who adhere to it. while others have dodged it. Regarding the question as to why they arose. as we might say. we should better use the plural form. but it does not deprive it of its real nature. viz. Having explained the mechanism of the creation and preservation of Caste in India. My own interpretation is that they were honoured because they were practiced. At all times. Some are puzzled as to whether there could be such a thing as the origin of caste and suggest that " if we cannot control our fondness for the word ' origin '. This high-flown and ingenious sophistry indicates why these institutions were honoured. Any one slightly acquainted with rise of individualism in the 18th century will appreciate my remark. I submit that they were needed to create the structure of caste and the philosophies in honour of them were intended to popularise them. Such purity is compulsory not only after marriage. As she does not know to whom she is going to be married. You may pass a law that all cats are dogs. just as you can call a means an end. No maiden could be considered pure if she feels love for a man other than the one to whom she might be married. In like manner I urge that the very fact that these customs were so highly eulogized proves that they needed eulogy for their prevalence. One might safely say that idealization of means is necessary and in this particular case was perhaps motivated to endow them with greater efficacy. If she does so. for any man at all before marriage. Strict endogamy could not be preserved without these customs. Ketkar to be as follows : " A really faithful man or woman ought not to feel affection for a woman or a man other than the one with whom he or she is united. she must not feel affection. the further question as to its genesis naturally arises. But you can no more change the nature of means thereby than you can turn cats into dogs . The eulogy in honour of girl marriage is reported by Dr. that of a means.

so to say. and as their prevalence in non-Brahmin castes is derivative of their observance is neither strict nor complete. but an individual in a society is always a member of a class. If we bear this generalization in mind. who occupy the highest place in the social hierarchy of the Hindu society . and it is only a span that separates the two. for class and caste. To be true to facts it is necessary to qualify the statement. as I have established before. and. But the strict observance of these customs and the social superiority arrogated by the priestly class in all ancient civilizations are sufficient to prove that they were the originators of this " unnatural institution " founded and maintained through these unnatural means. but the existence of definite classes in a society is a fact. as it seems to me. The study of the origin of caste must furnish us with an answer to the question—what is the class that raised this " enclosure " around itself ? The question may seem too inquisitorial. As for myself I do not feel puzzled by the Origin of Caste in India for. we know it was not.caste ' ". as a matter of fact. I now come to the third part of my paper regarding the question of the growth and spread of the caste system all over India. then it needs no argument to prove what class is the father of the institution of caste. which may be left as an employment for another occasion. our study of the genesis of caste would be very much facilitated. And the main cause. These customs in all their strictness are obtainable only in one caste. as can be shown very easily. endogamy is the only characteristic of Caste and when I say Origin of Caste I mean The Origin of the Mechanism for Endogamy. Why the Brahmin class should have enclosed itself into a caste is a different question. I can answer it only indirectly.Unfortunately a direct answer to this question is not within my power. are next door neighbours. This is because of the . is that the two questions of spread and of origin are not separated. for we have only to determine what was the class that first made itself into a caste. This is a universal fact and early Hindu society could not have been an exception to this rule. The question I have to answer is : How did the institution of caste spread among the rest of the non-Brahmin population of the country ? The question of the spread of the castes all over India has suffered a worse fate than the question of genesis. If the prevalence of these customs in the non-Brahmin Castes is derivative. A Caste is an Enclosed Class. society is always composed of classes. as it connotes universality of their prevalence. The atomistic conception of individuals in a Society so greatly popularised— I was about to say vulgarised—in political orations is the greatest humbug. It may be an exaggeration to assert the theory of class-conflict. but it is pertinent. namely the Brahmins. They may be economic or intellectual or social. Their basis may differ. This important fact can serve as a basis of an important observation. To say that individuals make up society is trivial . and an answer to this will serve us to elucidate the mystery of the growth and development of castes all over India. I said just above that the customs in question were current in the Hindu society.

One thing I want to impress upon you is that Manu did not give the law of Caste and that he could not do so. but the imposing of the caste system on the non-Brahmin population was beyond their mettle. Similar in argument is the theory that the Brahmins created the Caste.common belief among scholars that the caste system has either been imposed upon the docile population of India by a law-giver as a divine dispensation. and I am afraid will yet live long. but it is being justified on the ground that it cannot but be good. who arises as an incarnation (avatar) in times of emergency to set right a sinning humanity and give it the laws of justice and morality. not because the religious sanctity is grounded on scientific basis. Not only does this belief exist. or that it has grown according to some law of social growth peculiar to the Indian people. The vehemence of my attack may seem to be unnecessary . because it is ordained by the Shastras and the Shastras cannot be wrong. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that Manu could not have outlived his law. It is unimaginable that the law of caste was given. and suffer him to raise another class to the pinnacle ? Unless he was a tyrant who held all the population in subjection it cannot be imagined that he could have been allowed to dispense his patronage in this grossly unjust manner. as may be easily seen by a mere glance at his " Institutes ". My aim is to show the falsity of the attitude that has . He was an upholder of it and therefore philosophised about it. and I dare say they were. if he did exist. The Brahmins may have been guilty of many things. Caste existed long before Manu. Preaching did not make the caste system neither will it unmake it. nor to help those reformers who are preaching against it. but I am sure my force is not strong enough to kill his ghost. but I can assure you that it is not uncalled for. The spread and growth of the Caste system is too gigantic a task to be achieved by the power or cunning of an individual or of a class. If the story that he gave the law of caste be credited. He lives. His work ended with the codification of existing caste rules and the preaching of Caste Dharma. the law-giver of India. like a disembodied spirit and is appealed to. I have urged so much on the adverse side of this attitude. except to point out that it is incorrect in thought and malicious in intent. Manu. I need hardly say anything more. but cannot further it very far. To fashion society after one's own pattern ! How glorious ! How hard ! One can take pleasure and eulogize its furtherance. but certainly he did not and could not ordain the present order of Hindu Society. After what I have said regarding Manu. Every country has its law-giver. I may seem hard on Manu. was certainly an audacious person. for what is that class that can submit to be degraded to the status of brutes by the pen of a man. There is a strong belief in the mind of orthodox Hindus that the Hindu Society was somehow moulded into the framework of the Caste System and that it is an organization consciously created by the Shastras. then Manu must have been a dare-devil fellow and the humanity that accepted his dispensation must be a humanity quite different from the one we are acquainted with. I first propose to handle the law-giver of India. They may have helped the process by their glib philosophy. but they certainly could not have pushed their scheme beyond their own confines.

in which individuals. If they are not peculiar to India. Mr. We shall be well advised to recall at the outset that the Hindu society. In spite of the high theoretic value claimed by the several authors for their respective theories based on one or other of the above nuclei. or that the professors are mistaken ? I am afraid that the latter is the truth. probably not much given to hero-worship. but are common to the world. Without stopping to criticize those theories that explain the caste system as a natural phenomenon occurring in obedience to the law of disintegration. round which have " formed " the various castes in India. why is it that they did not " form " caste on other parts of this planet ? Is it because those parts are holier than the land of the Vedas. Thus the great man theory does not help us very far in solving the spread of castes in India. when qualified.exalted religious sanction to the position of a scientific explanation. Nesfield. . or as natural as " the structural differentiation within an organism "—to employ the phraseology of orthodox apologists —. Nesfield's is a typical one. or as an early attempt to test the laws of eugenics—as all belonging to the same class of fallacy which regards the caste system as inevitable. Particular attention has to be paid to the fact that this was essentially a class system. have attempted other explanations. was the foundation upon which the whole system of Castes in India was built up ". Risley. or the artisan and menial class. I will now lay before you my own view on the subject. . Such are the various theories of caste advanced by Sir Denzil lbbetson. (3) the rise of new belief. which practically amounts to saying that castes in India are functional or occupational. (4) cross-breeding and (5) migration. could change their class. had it not been for the fact that Mr. as explained by Herbert Spencer in his formula of evolution. or as being consciously imposed in anticipation of these laws on a helpless and humble population. (3) the Vaishya. or the military class . Nesfield says that " function and function only. Mr. or the merchant class and (4) the Shudra. was composed of classes and the earliest known are the (1) Brahmins or the priestly class. Western scholars. The question may be asked whether these nuclei do not exist in other societies and whether they are peculiar to India. one regrets to say that on close examination they are nothing more than filling illustrations— what Matthew Arnold means by " the grand name without the grand thing in it ". and therefore classes did . To criticise them in a lump would be to say that they are a disguised form of the Petitio Principii of formal logic. Nesfield why is it that an occupational group turned into an occupational caste ? I would very cheerfully have undertaken the task of dwelling on the theories of other ethnologists. (2) survivals of tribal organization etc. But he may rightly be reminded that he does not very much advance our thought by making the above statement. The nuclei. in common with other societies. according to them: (1) occupation. To illustrate : Mr. are.. Senart and Sir H. (2) the Kshatriya. which is a very poor discovery ! We have yet to know from Mr.

given the opportunity. or even conscious. . At some time in the history of the Hindus. are hardly felt to exist. whose notions. others into very minute groups. if you please. but they are complementary and both are necessary to explain the phenomena of caste-formation in its entirety. But the unnatural thing about these subdivisions is that they have lost the open-door character of the class system and have become self-enclosed units called castes." [f. which formed the sources of the numerous castes of today.3] This propensity to imitate has been made the subject of a scientific study by Gabriel Tarde. some into large. became endogamous castes. " We must not think of . As the military occupation does not very easily lend itself to very minute sub-division." [f. The other classes being subject to the law of social division of labour underwent differentiation. in their turn. and the people likewise. The question we have to answer in this connection is: Why did these sub-divisions or classes.4] Another of Tarde's laws of imitation is : that the extent or intensity of imitation varies inversely in proportion to distance. This sub-division of a society is quite natural. so far from being conceived beforehand. Endogamy or the closed-door system. to quote his own words. I will first take up the psychological interpretation. who lays down three laws of imitation. who. . so far from being consciously produced. or in his own words " The thing that is most imitated is the most superior one of those that . was a fashion in the Hindu society. The Vaishya and Shudra classes were the original inchoate plasm. and as it had originated from the Brahmin caste it was whole-heartedly imitated by all the non-Brahmin sub-divisions or classes.change their personnel. It is so deepseated that Walter Bagehot argues that. industrial. religious or otherwise. The main seat of the imitative part of our nature is our belief. of did they close them of their own accord ? I submit that there is a double line of answer: Some closed the door : Others found it closed against them. One of his three laws is that imitation flows from the higher to the lower or. its nobility. and the causes predisposing us to believe this or disinclining us to believe that are among the obscurest parts of our nature. "Given the opportunity. its kings or sovereigns. It is " the infection of imitation " that caught all these sub-divisions on their onward march of differentiation and has turned them into castes. the Kshatriya class could have differentiated into soldiers and administrators. a nobility will always and everywhere imitate its leaders. But as to the imitative nature of credulity there can be no doubt. the priestly class socially detached itself from the rest of the body of people and through a closed-door policy became a caste by itself . imitation as voluntary. are not even felt at the time. The question is: were they compelled to close their doors and become endogamous. The one is a psychological interpretation and the other is mechanistic. The propensity to imitate is a deep-seated one in the human mind and need not be deemed an inadequate explanation for the formation of the various castes in India. become self-enclosed or endogamous ? My answer is because the Brahmins were so. On the contrary it has its seat mainly in very obscure parts of the mind.

However distant in space a stranger may be. enforced widowhood. in the course of history." [f. and if he lives in an endogamous enclosure. it seems to me. I said that the Brahmin . Can such a being. idolised by scriptures and venerated by the priest-ridden multitude. The Brahmin is a semi-god and very nearly a demi-god. of the least distant. should not the rest follow his example ? Frail humanity! Be it embodied in a grave philosopher or a frivolous housemaid. This law of the imitation of the nearest. the best way. But observance of these customs varies directly with the distance (I am using the word in the Tardian sense) that separates the caste.are nearest. In a way. I dare say. Yet another way of demonstrating the play of imitation in the formation of castes is to understand the attitude of non-Brahmin classes towards those customs which supported the structure of caste in its nascent days until. have only girl marriage and those furthest off have imitated only the belief in the caste principle. Imitation is easy and invention is difficult. which might have appeared to you as too sudden or unsupported. Those that are less near have imitated enforced widowhood and girl marriage. it became embedded in the Hindu mind and hangs there to this day without any support— for now it needs no prop but belief-like a weed on the surface of a pond. the influence of the model's example is efficacious inversely to its distance as well as directly to its superiority. the status of a. others. This phenomenon is a complete illustration of Tarde's law and leaves no doubt that the whole process of caste-formation in India is a process of imitation of the higher by the lower.In fact. he is believed to be the very end of creation. Such a creature is worthy of more than mere imitation. At this juncture I will turn back to support a former conclusion of mine. is due partly to what Tarde calls " distance " and partly to the barbarous character of these customs. a little further off. He sets up a mode and moulds the rest. Distance is understood here in its sociological meaning. he is close by. from this point of view. is to find out whether or not the vital conditions for the formation of castes by imitation exist in the Hindu Society. but at least of imitation . The conditions for imitation. fail to project his personality on the suppliant humanity ? Why. if we have numerous and daily relations with him and if we have every facility to satisfy our desire to imitate him. according to this standard authority are: (1) that the source of imitation must enjoy prestige in the group and (2) that there must be " numerous and daily relations " among members of a group. Those castes that are nearest to the Brahmins have imitated all the three customs and insist on the strict observance thereof. It cannot be otherwise.His prestige is unquestionable and is the fountain-head of bliss and good. it succumbs. and girl marriage. explains the gradual and consecutive character of the spread of an example that has been set by the higher social ranks. but only in a way.5] In order to prove my thesis—which really needs no proof—that some castes were formed by imitation. This imperfect imitation. caste in the Hindu Society varies directly with the extent of the observance of the customs of Sati. if the story be true. That these conditions were present in India there is little reason to doubt.

as well as the psychological one. if Group A wants to be endogamous. Take India as a whole with its various communities designated by the various creeds to which they owe allegiance. the Hindus. That this line of approach. Jews. created non-Brahmin caste. if the first four enclose themselves. A novel way of thinking will create a new Caste for the old ones will not tolerate it. I will proceed to offer my own explanation by making one remark which I will urge you to bear constantly in mind. but are indirectly closed in. Symbolically. barring the Hindus. Now. by virtue of this. they exist among them as derivatives . Any innovation that seriously antagonises the ethical. and the recalcitrant members of a Caste are in danger of being thrown out of the Caste. but all kinds will suffer the same penalty. if they are derived. It is this : that caste in the singular number is an unreality. But in a theocratic society. It is mechanistic because it is inevitable. There is no such thing as a caste : There are always castes. Now apply the same logic to the Hindu society and you have another explanation of the " fissiparous " character of caste. to express it in my own way. Caste rules are inexorable and they do not wait to make nice distinctions between kinds of offence. The noxious thinker respectfully called Guru (Prophet) suffers the same fate as the sinners in illegitimate love. there must have been prevalent one original caste that was high enough to have served as a pattern for the rest. though the imitators have not been aware of it. as means or as ideals. To illustrate my meaning: while making themselves into a caste. Castes exist only in the plural number. My reason for that conclusion was that their existence in other classes was derivative. But with respect to each other they are castes.class first raised the structure of caste by the help of those three customs in question. I will clear my point by taking another illustration. Again. to the explanation of the subject has escaped my predecessors is entirely due to the fact that they have conceived caste as a unit by itself and not as one within a System of Caste. while closing themselves in they closed others out. as a consequence of the virtue of self-duplication that is inherent in it. Innovation may be of any kind. religious and social code of the Caste is not likely to be tolerated by the Caste. Let us now see how others were closed in as a result of being closed out. and. After what I have said regarding the role of imitation in the spread of these customs among the non-Brahmin castes. to wit. the rest within themselves are non-caste communities. Mohammedans. Group B has to be so by sheer force of circumstances. The result of this oversight or lack of sight has been very detrimental to the proper understanding of the subject matter and therefore its correct explanation. the Parsis are directly closed out. This I call the mechanistic process of the formation of caste. who could be the pattern but the servant of God? This completes the story of those that were weak enough to close their doors. The former creates a caste of the nature of a religious sect and the . Christians and Parsis. or. the Brahmins. and left to their own fate without having the alternative of being admitted into or absorbed by other Castes.

and Dr. It is true that Caste rests on belief.. have aroused a great deal of controversy regarding its origin. European students of Caste have unduly emphasised the role of colour in the Caste system.6] Again. But castes are enclosed units and it is their conspiracy with clear conscience that compels the excommunicated to make themselves into a caste. far from it. Castes have no mercy for a sinner who has the courage to violate the code. there is a deep cultural unity. Now to summarise the main points of my thesis. On the contrary. Whether a tribe or a family was racially Aryan or Dravidian was a question which never troubled the people of India. There are occupational. with the result that new groups (formed on any basis obnoxious to the caste rules) by a mechanical law are constantly being converted into castes to a bewildering multiplicity. or the so-called Dravidian race. but it is by no means an explanation of the origin of Caste. The logic of this obdurate circumstance is merciless. as I have explained it. Ketkar is correct when he insists that " All the princes whether they belonged to the so-called Aryan race. because others in enclosing. is almost impossible to be sustained : for the difficulties that it involves are tremendous. Thus is told the second tale in the process of Caste formation in India. it is true. In my opinion there have been several mistakes committed by the students of Caste. as to whether it is due to the conscious command of a Supreme Authority. Caste. however. It is not peculiar Hindu psychology that induces the excommunicated to form themselves into a caste 5. they have mistaken mere descriptions for explanation and fought over them as though they were theories of origin. and it is in obedience to its force that some unfortunate groups find themselves enclosed. castes. which have misled them in their investigations. (3) that there was one caste to start with and (4) that classes have become Castes through imitation and excommunicationpeculiar interest attaches to the problem of Caste in India today. Themselves impregnated by colour prejudices. very often they have been quite willing to be humble members of some caste (higher by preference) if they could be admitted within its fold." [f. Those who hold the latter . Such attempts at reform. the institution itself needs to be perpetuated and fortified. We have yet to find out why occupational groups are castes . (2) that caste is a parcelling into bits of a larger cultural unit. as persistent attempts are being made to do away with this unnatural institution. The penalty is excommunication and the result is a new caste. until foreign scholars came in and began to draw the line. My study of the Caste problem involves four main points : ( 1 ) that in spite of the composite make-up of the Hindu population. The colour of the skin had long ceased to be a matter of importance.latter a type of mixed caste. they very readily imagined it to be the chief factor in the Caste problem. were Aryas. themselves have closed them out. religious etc. On the contrary. or is an unconscious growth in the life of a human society under peculiar circumstances. But nothing can be farther from the truth. but this question has never even been raised. Lastly they have taken Caste very lightly as though a breath had made it. but before belief comes to be the foundation of an institution.

as in a rational disagreement on a topic. I hope. For myself I shall find as much pleasure in a positive destruction of my own ideology. if it can be shown to be untenable I shall be equally willing to give it up . I am not. which seem to me well founded. which. however. To conclude. We must. It seems to me that the car has been shunted on wrong lines. or anything more than a contribution to a discussion of the subject.view will. so presumptuous as to think them in any way final. find some food for thought in the standpoint adopted in this paper. while I am ambitious to advance a Theory of Caste. Apart from its practical importance the subject of Caste is an all absorbing problem and the interest aroused in me regarding its theoretic foundations has moved me to put before you some of the conclusions. Sentiment must be outlawed from the domain of science and things should be judged from an objective standpoint. and the primary object of the paper is to indicate what I regard to be the right path of investigation. guard against approaching the subject with a bias. however. notwithstanding many learned disquisitions is likely to remain controversial forever. with a view to arrive at a serviceable truth. and the grounds upon which they may be supported.

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